Chafing at the bits: The final blog

Our very own John Carroll took on the Virgin Money London Marathon. Photo by David Rothon

Catch up on John's training and marathon day drama.

I want to begin this final entry by thanking everyone who read the blog and posted responses on social media over the last four months. I don’t use Facebook or Twitter and when I told my friends I was going to be blogging they thought they had misheard because it was far more likely I was about to take up a career felling trees in Canada.

When RW’s digital team told me other runners were posting comments, I was surprised, not owing to a lack of vanity, God knows, but because I simply never considered it as a possibility. I was particularly touched by the comments that followed my account of the marathon itself – the expressions of warmth, solidarity, encouragement and concern led me to spend many hours smiling benevolently upon my people and forgiving their transgressions.

Two days after the marathon and what I shall for ever more refer to as the Total Mall Function, I was back in the gym, doing a light session on the treadmill and, for the first time in four months, lifting some weights. Why bother with weights? Here’s why: on my trip to Dublin a few weeks before the race I asked my brother if he thought I had lost weight. I wasn’t bothered either way, but it seemed impossible that I had not, considering the training I had been doing. He looked me up and down, which did not take long, and said, “Yeah, your arms are skinny.” And a friend who saw the photo of me embracing my inner Larry Grayson on my last blog entry emailed that I’d gone “all skinny”.

I thought two things would happen in the week following the marathon. One, I was sure I’d spend those post-race days eating all the food and drinking all the drink I had denied myself since January, when I began training. But I didn’t. This is probably because my body had not become a temple in those four months; it had remained a sort of warehouse, filled with wine, crisps, chorizo and bacon. Did this relative lack of dietary self-control play a part in my collapse at the end of the race? Impossible to say for certain, so I will say no.

The second thing I was expecting was pain: that my legs would be stiff, that my feet would be tender, that my joints would creak and moan, that my muscles would be unable to bear the weight of even the lightest linen trousers. But no. My legs are fine, no pain at all. Meanwhile, other people in the office who ran on Sunday are limping, shuffling or walking with the grace of Frankenstein’s creature after he’s climbed down from the operating table for the first time and found that his shoes don’t fit. Of course, these other people ran far faster than I did, but even taking my comparative lack of zip into account, my near-complete recovery surprises me. I feel quite smug and have twice clicked my heels in the manner of an enthusiastically bearded prospector who’s just found gold in his pan.

This morning, exactly one week after the race, I ran seven miles and could have run several more, but here’s the fun thing: I didn’t have to. I’m running a half marathon in Bucharest in two weeks, and I know I already have enough miles behind me to complete that race in comfort, if not style (some people look like art in motion when they run; I look like a puppy chasing a bee).

The feeling I can recall from the day with greatest clarity is not the one I expected. It is not the excitement of the start, as stirring as it was; it is not the support from the crowds, tremendous though they were; it is not the moment I crossed the finishing line, which I can hardly recall; and it is not the distress I experienced afterwards. It is gratitude, for the people who came to my aid when I slid to the ground and for those who took care of me as I lay bewildered and shivering in the first aid tent. I would far prefer it if those other memories were to the fore, but they could be no more positive than the recollection that when I was unable to stand, several strangers came to my aid rather than going through my pockets. It would have been tough luck on them if they’d tried: there were no pockets in my gear.